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Ciarán Cuffe | Ireland

Ciarán Cuffe | Ireland

Ciarán Cuffe | Ireland
Why did you choose to study architecture?

You could say that I come from a family of Architects. I am one of eight-children and three of us went on to study Architecture in UCD.
It doesn’t stop there! My own father Luan was also a UCD Architectural graduate. He graduated from UCD in 1942 and went on to study in Harvard, undertaking a Masters with Walter Gropius.

UCD Architects were pushing boundaries not only in the 1980’s and the 1960’s, but right back to the 1930’s when my late Aunt Maureen Hope (nee Cuffe) would have studied there. Maureen was one of the first female Architects to graduate from UCD. Maureen graduated in 1939 and was ahead of her time, not only did she attend College in the 1930’s, but she entered a profession which was largely male dominated. When I look back now I can see how she was pushing boundaries by not only attending College in the first instance, but through her work as an architect. Her design of children’s play centres in Mountjoy Square and near the Coombe in Dublin, was ahead of its time.

It is wonderful that her daughter Gabrielle O’Herlihy and her daughter, Ruth, are both UCD graduates also. Ruth is a director of McCullough Mulvin Architects, another firm with links to UCD. Three generations of female UCD graduates in the family is a very nice continuity.

UCD Architecture has always been well connected to trends in architectural theory and practice outside of the island.

Tell us a bit about your time in UCD…

I really enjoyed my time studying in Richview. It was a fantastic setting; a beautiful building, bright airy studios, a collegial atmosphere and a wonderful walk through the countryside to get to the restaurant on the main campus! Richview was ¾ of a mile from the Restaurant and this distance from the ‘centre’ of campus meant that, at times, we were very much out on a limb.

It was a wonderful place to study with Prof. Cathal O’Neill using his creativity and imagination to redesign the old masonic buildings to form a satellite campus for Architecture, Urban Planning, the Environment Institute and other activities.

I still visit Richview and enjoyed a visit as a guest critic on a Housing project that formed part of the Masters Programme a few months ago and I am in close contact with the School and its staff.

My memory of Richview was that of bright airy studios with a fantastic college atmosphere. I remember the building itself to be very beautiful and the setting to be fantastic. Back then, the walk to the restaurant on the main campus was very much a ‘walk through the countryside’. During that time, UCD Architecture had a fantastic cohort of staff, sharing their knowledge with us students; Robin Walker from Scott Tallon Walker, Pat Hickey, who was a fantastic studio master, Shelley McNamara and Yvonne Farrell from Grafton Architects, who had a real intensity about their work, Paul Keogh, Derek Tynan and Sheila O’Donnell and John Tuomey.

We really were very privileged as students to have such wonderful tutors.
Studying Architecture requires a huge commitment as a young student. Our hours of work, and the intensity of our work, sometimes meant it was difficult to get involved with student societies and clubs. We could have done with a better work life balance as students! UCD Architects are always pushing boundaries!

What is the Temple of Peace?

The ‘Temple of Peace’ was our reaction to the growing concern that existed about then US President, Ronald Regan. During this time, the world was watching his next move. He had already made military interventions outside of the US and there was considerable tension growing between Russia and the US (much like today!)

It was beginning to seem unlikely that the super-powers would pull-back from an altercation and Ireland had a role to play, on the global stage. There was already a growing thread of activism in UCD Architecture, going back to Ruairi Quinn and the ‘Gentle Revolution’, Duncan Stewart in his RAGE years and my own Aunt Maureen Hope (nee Cuffe) a pioneering female graduate in the 1930’s!

A good friend and fellow UCD Architecture graduate John Dorman and I erected the ‘Temple of Peace’ out on the lake as a reaction to what was happening between the US and Russia at that time. It was something which caught the attention of our fellow students, educated them on what was happening between the two super-powers and brought attention to the danger of military proliferation

What was your fondest memory from your time at UCD?

During Rag-week in 1985 the ‘Brighten up Belfield Bow-Tie Committee’ was formed. It’s first order of business was to place a bow-tie on the Belfield Water Tower. Our rationale for this was that, Andrzej Wejchert, who designed the Dodecahedron shaped Water Tower in 1972, was synonymous for wearing a bow-tie. This was all the momentum us Architecture students needed to put our plan into action! At 3am, during rag-week, the ‘Bow-Tie Committee’ used a combination of design genius, rope and the energy and fearlessness of youth to scale the water-tower and position our ‘bow-tie’ fashioned out of chicken-wire, timber and sheet, under the base of the dodecahedron. Although we felt it was a fitting tribute to its Architect, it did not last very long. UCD Security (who were by now familiar with this motley crew of Architecture students) managed to dismantle our good work! Needless to say, we were not flavour of the month with UCD Campus Security at that time!

Both of these ‘student pranks’ were really our reaction to the soulless nature of UCD at that time. You have to remember back in early 1980’s where there was no students living on campus and there were a lot less buildings then there are today.

We were of a cohort of students who had just come into UCD after the move from Earlsfort Terrace and we were very conscious that as the University had just moved out from the bustle of the City Centre to a bare Belfield campus, there was a need to make things a little livelier! So, while ‘The Temple of Peace’ and ‘The Bow-Tie’ could be viewed as mere student pranks, they really were a deliberate effort to vitalise and invigorate the rather soulless campus at that time.

Tell us about your career journey since graduating…

Since graduating from UCD, I have gone on a transition of sorts. I moved from Architecture to Urban Planning, completing a Masters in Urban Planning in 1996. My time spent studying for my MA allowed me to think about Irish communities, from a more local level. This would have helped to propel me towards the path of politics, where you see opportunities to effect change, in a very real way. This felt like a very natural transition for me and I now manage to work with both of my passions, as a Lecturer in Planning in DIT and Dublin City Councillor for the Green Party. I am definitely kept very busy but I find that having a foot in both camps (politics and architecture) helps me to navigate the waters more effectively. I am still trying to chase the work : life balance that I did as a student however, I would not have it any other way!

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